Last Sunday our church family shared our regular weekly remembrance of the Lord around His table. (“Remember me until I come again.”) This is always special, but this week the emphasis in our meditation was on His grace, and once again I was moved by all the implications of His grace; how He gives so freely and in every circumstance. I could not help but think that we often take His grace for granted. It is as if we are so accustomed to it that we forget how much His grace has cost Him, and the words “grace and mercy” flow off our tongues without any conscious thought.
The words mercy and grace are used together so often that they may seem to be the same word, but they are not. One is a keeping back, a withholding of His righteous anger, in mercy. The other is a an abundance of love and blessing poured out, in grace.
There are times when I say to myself that all I want to see is justice; that those who hurt others unjustly should receive what is due to them for their treachery or their cruelty or whatever. Then I think about my own life in the light of Christ, and I am incredibly grateful for the mercy of God which has not treated me as I deserve. We are all sinners and God has every right to be angry with us. We stand before Him naked and ashamed and fully aware that we have gone our own way and neglected to love Him and to love our neighbor. He has told us what is expected, and we have chosen not to be obedient. However, because of the sacrifice of Christ, and because we have trusted in Him, the Father holds back His wrath which we fully deserve, and extends His mercy. I t is an astounding evidence of His love.
Grace, however, is something else. It is similar, but instead of His holding something negative back, like His justice and wrath, it is a total giving; free and unconditional. Although we don’t deserve anything good from His hand, He pours out His grace on His children abundantly, riches on riches, heaped up and over-flowing.
There are a number of definitions out there for “grace”. I have heard an acronym: “Grace is: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. Others call it “unmerited favor”. A. W. Tozer says it is “The good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits on the underserving”. Not one of these comes anywhere near describing the depth and scope of God’s grace toward us.
What is remarkable is that His grace is poured on those who really deserve His anger. That is how grace and mercy are linked. I only have to compare myself very briefly to Christ to see how far short I fall from His perfection. I read the Law, and am condemned immediately: I do not love the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind and my neighbor as myself. I am full of some degree of all the things described in the first chapter of Romans: the corrupted mind and spirit of man, wanting my own way, assuming I can be as God. But in Christ, I find mercy and grace.
In Christ, I am forgiven and blessed as though I had never shaken my fist in the face of God and challenged Him; told Him I would not bow my knee to Him. By my recognition of, and sorrow for my sin, and my claiming, in gratitude, the gift of God’s grace, I have been forgiven and set free from the penalty which should have been mine. He has withheld His anger and instead shown mercy, and graciously poured out His love in salvation and the opportunity for intimacy with the most High God. In Christ, God is transforming my spirit, renewing me, giving me a new way of seeing things, a new way to live. How can I ever be grateful enough; how can I ever fully understand the depth of love poured out for me?
I love the many expressions of His grace found in scripture. The letter to the church at Ephesus is full of the benefits of the grace of God: adoption, acceptance, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom, the seal of the Holy Spirit, and much, much more. Think about this:
“Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise and glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:2-6)
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)
I keep finding more and more examples of how He provides and sustains and supports us in ways we may not understand until years after the fact. Over and over in my life I have seen evidence of His provision for my well- being: checks which arrived the day I found out I would have an unexpected bill, and for almost the exact amount I would need; people who freely provided necessary teaching and instruction; needed goods and services suddenly available just at the right time from completely unusual sources. He has put special people in my life for brief periods just when I needed them. Over and over I have seen how He is involved in some of the smallest details of life.
Yet His grace involves more than just getting people and things and money. It is in providing comfort and peace and wisdom. It is in the assurance of His love through every circumstance. The whole basis of our relationship is built upon the greatest evidence of His grace: on the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How can I let Him know how much I love Him; how much I appreciate His grace? I think that He welcomes our times of conversation together; those times when I just come to Him and thank Him for all the blessing He has showered on me. I think He enjoys those times when I sing just for Him in the privacy of my living room; even when my broken old voice cracks and wavers. He knows my heart. I think He enjoys it when He sees that I am consciously trying to look at others through His eyes and love them as He has loved me. We worship in many ways, and we are made for His glory. Whatever we do in His name, with loving hearts and worshipful minds, must please Him. I am forever grateful for His mercy and His grace.
When we fail Him; when we don’t get it right or slip back onto paths which we used to take, His grace still overflows toward us. We can be forgiven and restored. David had sinned terribly. Not only had he committed adultery with Bathsheba, he had been instrumental in the murder of her husband in order to cover up his shame. Yet, when he realized what he had done, he came in repentance to God.
David documented his repentance in Psalm 51, begging God for His forgiveness. “Create in me a new heart, O God”, he says. “Renew a steadfast spirit within me”. Later in that same Psalm he also says, “For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart ~ These, O God, You will not despise.” God not only forgave him, He raised him up to become “a man after God’s own heart”. That is grace.
“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low and He saved me. Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:5-7)